FBO Consultation at Family Planning Summit Print {sharethis label=}

Faith Groups Strategize on Barriers Facing FBOs in Family Planning

The Family Planning Summit held last week in London organized by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Department for International Development resulted in the achievement of the stated goal to secure commitments to provide voluntary family planning services to an additional 120 million women and girls in the world’s poorest nations by 2020.  

In addition to securing these commitments, the summit was an opportunity for people of faith to gather and address two main barriers preventing faith-based organizations from being leveraged to their full potential and reach vulnerable communities with family planning services. Capitalizing on the July 11 summit, CCIH initiated a consultation in London on faith and family planning held the following day, which attracted 41 people — including representatives from Christian, Muslim and secular organizations.

One hurdle the group discussed is that many in the reproductive health community have the misperception that most faith-based groups are against family planning or they are not aware of the work FBOs are doing to provide services, resulting in a missed opportunity to leverage the work of these groups. Faith communities are often able to reach vulnerable populations because of their wide-reaching networks and the trust they earn in their communities.

“The only way the ambitious goals in child health and family planning can be reached is to mobilize the faith community along with other stakeholders, an ‘all hands-on-deck’ approach,” said Ray Martin, executive director of CCIH. “Often the hardest-to-reach populations in rural areas and the urban poor are the ones most likely to be reachable by FBOs.”

Professor Andrew Tomkins, a health, nutrition and HIV advisor for the Institute of Child Health at University College London who works with FBOs, summed up the negative comments when he said: "Faith groups are regarded as the problem, not the solution. In family planning, we're still demons and not deliverers. But we’re not very good in making our case and talking about our work.” Or, as another person put it, “FBOs do great work but are very quiet about it.”

Fortunately, representatives of the Gates Foundation, the British Department for International Development, the United Nations Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development and other donors were present at the FBO consultation and all spoke about the importance of FBOs and how their agencies already work with them. One representative of a donor agency said “FBOs need to step up their messaging and confront those who disparage them.”

Another serious problem addressed at the consultation was the need to educate many faith leaders who discourage family planning about the health benefits of enabling families to safely space the births of their children. Unfortunately, the messages discouraging the use of contraception and criticizing the work of groups like the Gates Foundation to bring services to women receive much greater attention in the media than faith-based organizations providing family planning, which further contributes to the perception that faith communities are against it.

Several speakers proposed creative ways of winning over anti-family planning people of faith. Professor Tomkins showed how specific Bible verses could be used to promote family planning. He cited “Yeatman et al Demographic Research 2008” from Malawi that shows that although religious affiliation has no effect on use of family planning, church leaders’ views certainly do.

“We should educate more pastors,” said Samuel Mwenda, general secretary of the Christian Health Association of Kenya, which is already doing this. “They are very receptive to education. Once empowered, they can be very effective.”

CCIH board member David Olson attended the consultation and contributed to this report. A blog post by David Olson on the Family Planning Summit, Faith-Based Organizations Believe in Family Planning, appeared July 19 on the Gates Foundation Impatient Optimist Blog

Last Updated ( Thursday, 19 July 2012 21:33 )